The Kansas City Public Library Presents

Show Me Shakespeare 2016

Nearly four centuries after its publication, one of the world’s rarest and most valuable books – the first collection of William Shakespeare’s plays – is coming to Kansas City. First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare will be on display June 6-28, 2016, at the Kansas City Public Library’s downtown Central Library, serving as the centerpiece of more than six months of special programming celebrating the Bard.

Louis Francois Roubiliac
Terracotta, 1757
Folger Shakespeare Library

Facsimile of one of William Henry Ireland's forgeries, a primitive portrait of Shakespeare

Published for Samuel Ireland,
Norfolk Street, Strand, Dec. 1, 1795

Umberto Romano
Shakespeare Reciting Shakespeare
Oil on Canvas, ca. 1960s
Folger Shakespeare Library

Louis Francois Roubiliac
Bust of Shakespeare
Marble, eighteenth century
Folger Shakespeare Library

Thomas Nast
Portrait of Shakespeare
Drawing, late 19th century
Folger Shakespeare Library

A portrait of Shakespeare
From Songs and Sonnets,
by Sir Sidney Lee

Illumination by Alberto Sangorski

“We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”

William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

About the Folio

Shakespeare’s plays were written to be performed, and many consequently weren’t published during his lifetime. Not until seven years after his death – in 1616 in Statford-upon-Avon, England – did fellow actors John Heminge and Henry Condell compile 36 of the Bard’s comedies, histories, and tragedies in hopes of preserving them for future generations.

Eighteen of the works in the First Folio, including Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, Antony and Cleopatra, The Comedy of Errors, and As You Like It, had never appeared previously in print and otherwise would have been lost.

It’s believed that no more than 750 copies of the First Folio were printed. Only 233 are known to exist today. The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., holds 82 of them, the largest single collection in the world, and is placing 18 on tour in 2016 in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

The Folio includes a portrait of Shakespeare by English engraver Martin Droeshout that generally is considered an authentic image as it was approved by those who knew him.

Not all copies of the First Folio are the same. The 900-page volume – each page about a foot tall – was proofread as it was being printed, creating slight variations. Over time, some copies acquired notes and drawings. Some were damaged. Many have missing pages.

Prices for privately held surviving copies of the First Folio underscore its value. One sold for $6.2 million at Christie’s auction house in London in 2001. Another went for $5.2 million in 2006.

The book originally sold for one British pound, roughly the equivalent of $200 today.